The changing moon—like new love, I’ve read, no sooner full than it begins to wane—lingers over Acapulco Bay, leaving silver kisses on the inky water. We take our honeymoon there although my heart isn’t in it, hopelessly lost on the one who got away. My husband has arranged our newlyweds’ holiday, has secured our room on the 14th floor of the Hyatt Regency in the Golden Zone. Nothing but the best, he says. He’s afraid to disappoint me, afraid I don’t love him, that I can’t.
That morning, at the airport, an American woman with one leg glares at me because she catches me staring. It’s because she has the most luminous azure eyes I’ve ever seen; her missing limb is the last thing I noticed. I remember now and still wish I’d told her, but I hadn’t yet learned to speak up. Our cabbie plays frenzied Mariachi music that drowns out the high-strung engine’s whine on the drive along the Costera, the main coastal road, which winds and swirls through the mountains, which glitters at night with city lights, a starlet’s sequined gown. An ocean breeze, heavy and briny, curls through the cab’s open windows, and I lean my face into the sun, hungry for warmth. At the hotel, our cabbie helps us with our luggage, warns us against the Blue Shirts, the leathered men who want our money, who offer us anything, everything, todo. One of them grasps my arm, spews a quick staccato sentence I don’t understand, and I pull away, startled and offended by his liquored syllables, the ugliness against all the beauty.
Our room, opulent with a massive four-poster bed and travertine floors and wispy white curtains flitting on the whispering wind, overlooks the bay. We nap until night when the water’s blackness bleeds into satin sand. Flickers of candlelight dot the shore, and we go down to El Pescador to dine at the water’s edge. The first feeling of tiny suction cups against my tongue kills my appetite. My husband tries to pick out all the octopus segments, but dinner is ruined. My jaw hurts from wanting to be somewhere else. Back in the room, I pad across the cool floor and step out onto the balcony, naked, a sacrificial offering to my husband, reclining on an exquisite chaise. It’s dark enough that he can’t see the truth in my expression. It’s dark enough that he could be someone else.
We are awakened in the deep blue night as the earth shifts and rumbles beneath us, our marital bed tottering over the floor. “Earthquake,” my husband mumbles, as if he knows one. He rolls back into his slumber, and I lie in wait for morning, drowning in reality. It’s too late, too late.
The night before our wedding, I’d dialed a familiar number and, holding my breath, had said nothing when he didn’t answer; she did. This girl—the one I’d known for most of my life, the one who’d taken my place—this girl had answered the phone, groggy, drunk with sleep, maybe high from making love. I’d imagined that he would pick up, that we’d pull some kind of romantic-comedy trick, that we’d run away together from our momentum marriages. Too late.
My husband knows how I hate to be off the ground, yet he schedules para-sailing for the two of us the next morning. I don’t go, and he waves furiously, grinning like a half-wit, gliding in a cobalt sky above the palms and out of my sight. I order piña coladas, served in hollowed pineapples, and bake myself brown by one of the aquamarine pools. I take a dip to cool off, and a man swims over to the corner where I’m sitting on the bottom, the shallow water up to my waist.
“You look like your dog just died,” he says.
“No,” I say. And I don’t know why, but then I say, “I’m on my honeymoon, but the guy I love is getting married this Saturday in the exact church where I got married last Saturday. Same priest.”
“Oh,” is all he says, and after an awkward minute or two, he swims away. Hours later, my husband finds me in a dead sleep under my beach towel, my eyes still swollen from crying. We stride off the pool deck directly onto the smooth, warm sand by the bay, and in just a few steps, we’re submerged in the Pacific. The temperate water rocks us gently into each other, and he holds me close, too close, for too long. “We have to get ready,” he says.
“Ready for what?” I lean away and look up at him. Uncertainty clouds his features, tugs at his wary smile. He stares above my head. I see that I’ve hurt him, so I fall back into his embrace.
“We have to get ready, get dressed for the night. We’re going somewhere special,” he says. I say OK and wonder how everyone is back home.
Somewhere special is La Perla, the restaurant famous for its view of the Clavadistas, the cliff divers who jump off La Quebrada into dangerous tides that form in the shallow streams below. After they fling themselves off the rocks with fiery torches at the end of outstretched arms and slice through the water, two of the divers come to our table, still dripping in their white swim trunks, and I want to touch their sinewy backs and lithe limbs. I don’t understand their bravado, their confidence. I want to know what it feels like. Spineless as a jellyfish, I have washed ashore on the wrong beach.
The divers find out we are honeymooning and bring us pastellitas—little coffee cakes—and it turns out the couple next to us are also just married. They are a bit older, very drunk, his third marriage, her second. The couple has planned a glass-bottomed boat excursion for the next afternoon, and they invite us. We agree to meet at the pier.
My husband and I walk back to the hotel, the strip undulating with hordes of nightclub patrons, clamoring outside Baby ’O where they can dance and run up a tab into dawn.
“Want to go in?” my husband asks.
“I just want to sleep,” I say. “I’m tired.”
A throng of police, in their blue uniforms, break through the crowd, pressing nightsticks into young girls’ backs, teasing, daring. From our concierge, we know to stay clear of the blue uniforms because they are looking for trouble, and they sometimes make it for fun. The Federal Police, in brown and black and gray, are the blue’s antithesis. We can trust them. They protect and serve and provide a necessary balance. There always needs to be balance. Between love and hate? Good and bad? Truth and denial? Is there a point where things become so even that we just feel nothing?
We see no brown and black and gray to shield us from the blue, so we hurry on to our hotel where we’ll be safe. In the room, I change into an old t-shirt—my gorgeous French lace negligee wadded and forgotten at the bottom of my suitcase. I’m sinking into the luxurious bed when I see a cockroach, coffee black and as large as my hand, fly onto the ceiling right above my head. I’m paralyzed for a moment, but then I rocket into the bathroom where my husband is brushing his teeth. I grab him and shove him into the bedroom.
“Get it,” I shriek, and point up.
“Oh, my god,” he says, and runs back to the safety of the bathroom. “I’m not getting it.” He looks as stricken as I feel.
“Do something,” I say. Be the fucking man, I want to say. He would get it, I want to say. But, no. My husband finally agrees to dart into the room and call for assistance. I stand out in the hall while two employees kill the beast, but I insist upon seeing its smashed carcass, which covers the entire surface of the toilet bowl, before they send it to its watery grave. Even though I know it’s gone, and we close the balcony door, I’m restless and fretful all night, tallying up my husband’s list of faults and imagining crawling sensations on my face, my neck, my scalp.
After lunch the next day, we join our newfound friends—already drunk—for the boat trip to Isla la Roqueta, a small tropical island across Acapulco Bay. Our boat circles the harbor, and we thrill at the homes of the wealthy, snap disposable cameras at the villa where the 35th president took his bride long before his honeymoon memories splattered her pink suit. A young boy, perhaps 12 or 13, dives over the side and then reappears under our feet in the murky emerald water through the glass bottom. His hair wiggles like worms, his white teeth shine like pearls against the water’s velvet. I shudder with a sudden wave of nausea, the motion of the boat sending me reeling to its railing. My husband, the future doctor, does not move from his seat. His pleasant bedside manner no longer extends to me. I can’t blame him.
The young boy climbs back onboard, and he wields an urchin, its test the dull red of a faded Valentine. He tears it in two, just like an orange, and bites out the meat inside. I have to look away, lean over into the wake. He laughs and steals beside me, instructs me to bend my head down toward his feet. From an old tin bucket, he scoops handfuls of cool ocean water and tenderly rains them down the back of my neck. The soothing streams work my scalp like talented fingers. My sickness vanishes, I’m riding a wave of blessed relief, and for the first time since I’ve arrived in Acapulco, I see clearly how this trip ends.
Elane Johnson’s nonfiction has appeared in Brevity, Superstition Review, Sonora Review, The Indianapolis Star, Indystar.com, and The East County Gazette among other publications. Her award-winning “Aftermath” is featured in college creative writing curricula across the United States and internationally. Her essay, “Porn Star,” is included in the anthology, Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South and Women Behaving Badly (InFact Books, March, 2014). Elane holds an MFA (with distinction) in Creative Nonfiction. She teaches creative writing and composition for universities online. She is married to the writer, Stephen Ulrich.